Liverpool must bounce back and start to look toward the future
Liverpool aren't used to losing penalty shootouts. They have an exceptional record over the years, especially in cup finals, but that record was punctured by Manchester City on Sunday.
It was always going to be a tough ask for the Reds against a more naturally-gifted collection of players, a squad years in the building and one of the best teams in Europe on its day.
Facing them with a central defence of Lucas Leiva and, after Mamadou Sakho went off, Kolo Toure, was asking for trouble, yet ironically those two were star performers for Liverpool and showed the kind of experience and determination under fire that was lacking in others.
"Third time unlucky" isn't the usual phrase, yet Liverpool's third Capital One Cup shootout this season ended in failure. It was also the third League Cup final in which they have gone to penalties, after previous successes against Birmingham in 2001 and Cardiff in 2012.
There will be another chance of a trophy in the Europa League, but given that involves a tie against perpetual hoodoo Manchester United -- and a quality field besides them -- some may want to begin the season's inquest now, eager to assess the task facing Jurgen Klopp in the coming months.
Who can be kept and who needs discarding at Anfield will be one of the biggest discussions and opinions will vary, as some players can flourish once the quality around them improves.
Jordan Henderson, for example, is one who has regressed, yet he flourished under Brendan Rodgers in a team that included Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho and already had the world-class Luis Suarez hitting new peaks.
There are financial and time restraints for those pessimistic assessors who feel a complete clearout is the only solution. It's more likely that Klopp will put in place some kind of grading system for future team-building.
Players in the C group will need to be sold right away, while the B group consists of players he can use and live with until he can ensure they are replaced with superior quality.
Group A, meanwhile, will be the ones who feature in a team that challenges regularly on all fronts. With the whole club currently down in the dumps it's tempting to gauge that as a very small group indeed.
Klopp has good reason to have faith in his own coaching skills but even he must admit he's got his work cut out. Time and patience will probably outweigh any financial demands he makes.
Sunday's final gave the impression that Liverpool's first team bears the hallmarks of a real challenger's second team but, even so, they gave one of the country's best sides a scare.
There is ability and character but nothing like the amount needed by a successful team. Given the advances other clubs are making, the gaps Liverpool need to close could get even wider in the coming seasons. It's an enormous challenge.
Simon Mignolet almost epitomises the task at hand. It was felt that he'd made up for his goal howler by making good saves later on, but the enormity and timing of the error cannot be swept under the carpet easily. It came when City could pick Liverpool off at will and it was only poor finishing, particularly from Raheem Sterling, which kept the reds afloat.
Given Mignolet recently signed a new contract, Klopp's hands are temporarily tied as far as goalkeeper is concerned but it is worrying that he still sees Alberto Moreno as a safe bet at left-back when he makes the same positional errors again and again.
Meanwhile, the job of taking set pieces is still handed to James Milner, whose delivery is now a standing joke among fans who regard Liverpool corners as opposition goal kicks, such is their futility.
Sturridge is still feeling his way back to full fitness but plays with a selfishness at times that must drive Klopp mad. All these things could be amended now and yet the manager persists.
There were some pluses at Wembley. The spirit shown was one, as was the recovery from the setback of losing Mamadou Sakho early on. Emre Can grew into the game and was Liverpool's most industrious player by some distance, while Nathanial Clyne has been a consistent performer all season.
Though they can be frustrating at times, Brazilians Coutinho and Roberto Firmino have every chance of moving to a higher level if they can achieve greater consistency.
Attitude and work-rate won't be the problem -- Klopp's famous "gegenpress" is safe enough with these players -- but the main gripe is how much actual skill is involved. How much genuine quality is there at Anfield?
Better players are needed, yet the chances of those being financed by future Champions League money looks bleak. TV money is rising and Liverpool aren't exactly paupers, but with other clubs just as capable of spending, it's their judgement that needs to improve.
Klopp's ingenuity is the key factor. He has form -- at Borussia Dortmund -- and Liverpool's patience must be at least the equal to that of the German club. At present the reds can give their best occasionally but consistently good performances seem beyond them.
Large banners of Klopp looked down on fans at Wembley, almost reiterating the huge role he must play in any Liverpool resurgence. The climb back to the top is going to be a long and arduous one.
Steven Kelly writes about Liverpool for ESPN FC and has a weekly Liverpool column for The Irish Examiner. Follow him on Twitter @SteKelly198586.